CHICAGO (WBBM) — Thousands of Chicago-area senior citizens are about to get letters from the Regional Transportation Authority telling them that they are eligible for free ride cards — despite upcoming changes in the program. WBBM’s Bob Roberts explains.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts Reports

All are seniors who do not currently have cards under the existing “Seniors Ride Free” program that is being phased out.

Approximately 440,000 Chicago-area senior citizens have been issued the cards since early 2008. But, as part of the changeover to a program in which low-income senior citizens ride free and other seniors once again pay half fare, the RTA has begun checking the state Circuit Breaker program rolls.

Eligibility for the Circuit Breaker program will determine who is eligible to ride free.

Amazingly, said RTA spokesperson Diane Palmer, many seniors in the Circuit Breaker program apparently have no card.

“The RTA will send a letter to these other 150,000 Circuit Breaker-enrolled seniors asking them whether they want to enroll in the program, and if they do, they will receive a new Ride Free permit as well,” she said.

New fare cards will be mailed out the first week of August, and the changeover will occur Sept. 1. The changeover is costing the RTA $1.3 million.

Although the RTA board has taken all required action, a series of 12 public hearings on the changeover will begin Monday.

The program was instituted at the insistence of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, as a prerequisite for a 2008 RTA bailout. A UIC study, commissioned last year by the RTA, showed the program to be unsustainable, and estimated its current annual loss of revenues at between $30 million and $70 million.

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